Title: Edward Atkinson Hornel
Artist: Elizabeth “Bessie” MacNicol
Measurements: 74 x 63.5 cm
Medium: Oil on canvas
Repository: National Trust for Scotland, Broughton House & Garden
This portrait shows artist Edward Atkinson Hornel in front of a painted backdrop, assumedly one he made himself. He looks slightly left of the viewer with a stern expression. In his hands, he holds a palette and some painting brushes. Behind him, in rough, impressionistic strokes, is a Japanese-style painting of three figures. The figures are a woman in a black kimono and two men in red jackets, one with what seems to be a dragon behind him, although it’s difficult to make out. To the upper left of the painting is illegible kanji, and to the bottom left is the artist’s signature in a crude imitation of a traditional Japanese signature.
The choice to portray Hornel in this way asserts his dominance over the Japanese aesthetic. Hornel’s depiction with his artist’s tools is meant to indicate that he was the one who painted the background painting, but the artist may have been painting one of two things: either the background painting is one that Hornel has painted himself, or it is a genuine Japanese painting that she has posed Hornel in front of. In either case, the point of this art must have been to frame Hornel as a great Japanese-style artist. However, by appropriating this historic art form as his own for what appears to be purely aesthetic reasons, Hornel asserts his assumed dominance and superiority over Japanese artists, his pose exuding confidence that his work is just as good as theirs.